VolleyBears edge Illinois State, reach MVC Title Match

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — Missouri State will play for its fifth Missouri Valley Conference Tournament title Saturday at 4 p.m. after defeating fifth-seeded Illinois State in five sets Friday evening at the McLeod Center.

The top-seeded Bears (26-7) won their 17th consecutive match by set scores of 25-20, 17-25, 25-18, 20-25, 15-9, dropping the Redbirds to 17-15 on the year to move on to the league tournament championship match for the eighth time in the last 16 seasons.

The first set featured five ties and three early lead changes, the last on a Lynsey Wright kill that gave the Bears the lead for good at 7-6. MSU extended its run to a 9-6 score, and Lily Johnson’s kill made it 11-7. Simone House and Lauren Boone stuffed back-to-back ISU attacks during a 5-0 run for a 17-10 advantage, and Missouri State led by at least four points from there, ending the set with 25 digs and three blocks.

Missouri State grabbed an early 7-3 lead in the second set on a Tatum Marshall ace, but the Redbirds battled back to gain the advantage at 10-9 with a 4-0 run. After a Boone kill put the Bears ahead 13-11, the Redbirds took control, finishing the set on a 14-4 run to take advantage of MSU’s .086 team hitting efficiency.

The Bears took control of the third set with a 4-0 run that ended with a Brianne Dixon ace for a 9-5 score. Wright landed consecutive kills for 12-7, and added one of MSU’s four aces in the set for a 17-11 advantage. House swatted back-to-back kills after the Redbirds closed the gap to 18-14, and MSU hit .297 in the set compared to .159 for the Redbirds.

MSU never recovered from an 11-5 deficit in the fourth set, committing nine attack errors as the Redbirds extended the match. A block by House and Daniele Messa pulled the Bears to 19-18, but ISU responded with a 3-0 run for a 22-18 lead that proved to be enough.

The Bears opened the fifth set with two Johnson blocks and a Dixon ace for a 3-0 lead and never looked back. Johnson added an ace for 9-3, and Boone hit consecutive kills to make it 11-4 as MSU improved to 7-3 in five-setters this season.

Missouri State finished the evenly-played contest with a .186 attack efficiency compared to .179 for the Redbirds, and led 10-8 in blocks and 7-5 in aces while trailing 62-59 in kills and 96-91 in digs.

Five Bears had at least 10 digs, with Johnson matching her career high with 23 and Emily Butters setting a season high with 27. Johnson finished with 18 kills and Lynsey Wright had 14 on .290 hitting. Illinois State’s Courtney Pence set an MVC Tournament record with 38 digs.

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